With the work of NI Scrubs closed, the titanic effort by all involved has left them reflecting on what the army of sewers and co-ordinators, including Coleraine’s Claire O’Kane.
The much-needed response to the Covid-19 crisis saw Claire entirely switch focus from starting a new business to being one of the administrators of the Causeway Coast area.
“I worked alongside my mother on the campaign,” she explained. “Even with her age and health issues she stitched daily to help.
“I had just begun a new start up and had gone from sea salt to scrubs.”
NI Scrubs wound down a few weeks back after the mammoth effort of pulling together thousands of people to sew scrubs, scrub hats and gowns for hospitals, hospices, care homes and other caring professionals with 106,000 items delivered to key workers throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
The brainchild of Clara Maybin at the start of the first lockdown, when nursing and care staff were facing shortages, it grew from an appeal to become an army of 9,000 sewers, including Great British Sewing Bee contestant, Angeline Murphy.
Claire explained how the team worked to address the mammoth logistical task.
“My cousin in America had asked me on Facebook if my mum could make some,” she said.
“Before I knew it there were about 300 seamstresses involved and I ended up working as an administrator with Sheila Jackson, who had already been doing administration, and Alice Magill from The Fabric Yard in Portstewart, who had been sourcing material.
“We worked through Google, using Google docs etc and, when the orders came in, Sheila and I organised the orders, coordinating the pick-ups and deliveries. My home was a pick-up point in Coleraine and Sheila’s was the point for Portstewart.
“People were amazing. Machines were dropped off at my home and I had numerous requests about materials that we needed.
“We also had more than 20 drivers with all types of vehicles. We were supplying Causeway Coast hospital with scrubs, scrub bags, patient gowns, syringe bags – you name it, we provided it. Eventually we were also supplying Belfast hospitals too.”
One of those driving the effort was the Sewing Bee contestant, Angeline who believes that the work of NI Scrubs will have a lasting legacy.
“I feel I have a duty to keep the stitchers together and use their skills for the greater good,” she said “I have formed another group NI Big Community Sew in line with the UK wide campaign to make face coverings for the vulnerable in society.”
Claire agrees that there will be a lasting legacy.
“I think the campaign has helped so many individuals in the making of scrubs but speaking to stitchers and all involved it helped with mental health issues, building a sense of purpose in a challenging time,” she said. “It really brought out the best in people even in the darkest of times.
“At times we had no idea what we were doing, but we just made it up as we were going along and we go through it.”
In addition, the Causeway Coast group helped in the province-wide fundraising.
“We didn’t take any funding for the scrub making,” Claire said. “One of our biggest contributors was a collective called Taste Causeway, which was made up of local chefs.
“They did a cook-off every night for two weeks, cooking recipes online at 5pm every day and people made donations. They raised £4000 for material and other essentials, which was amazing. It really showed community spirit.”
Claire said of being involved: “It really was a weird time. I had just started a new business in March, but I switched my entire focus to this.
“It’s been amazing to be a part of this and helping co-ordinating causeway area, hearing how this has helped individuals deal with an unprecedented event.”